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Roosevelt Library group spells out path forward

Roosevelt Library group spells out path forward

Ed O'Keefe

Ed O'Keefe, a native of Grand Forks, is the CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. 

The group behind the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum set out goals and declared a central mission in a project brief released Sunday.

CEO Ed O'Keefe said the document will provide a crucial foundation for the group as it moves into the early stages of development, which include the selection of a site for the library and an architectural firm to design the project.

The library will aim to explore Roosevelt's life and legacy through the lens of the 26th president's core values of conservation, leadership and citizenship, according to the 22-page document.

The site of the library will almost certainly be near tourist town Medora and the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the western edge of North Dakota. Roosevelt spent parts of three years hunting and ranching in the area before his career in national politics.

The document's release marks the official beginning of the process to determine the project's designer. The project brief will now be sent to dozens of architectural firms to gauge interest in submitting bids to design the library.

The estimated timeline for the design competition looks like this, according to O'Keefe:

  • May 31, 2020: The library foundation's board of trustees narrows the number of possible sites down to two or three. Newly named director of design and construction Ken Vein is currently evaluating potential sites in or near Medora and the national park.

  • June 30, 2020: Design concepts from three to five architectural firms are due to the board and made public. Residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposals at the board's Aug. 17 and 18 meetings in Medora.

  • Sept. 1, 2020: Architectural renderings of the contending firms' design proposals are due to the board and made public.

  • Sept. 15, 2020: The board selects a firm to design the project and the site where it will be built.

O'Keefe said he hopes construction on the project will begin in 2022 and the library will open in 2024 or 2025. Before shovels hit dirt, the foundation must come up with the money necessary to complete the project.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a $50 million endowment for the project if the library foundation can raise $100 million in private donations. O'Keefe said Sunday he's "completely confident" the foundation will reach the lofty goal by the beginning of the next state legislative session in January 2021, but he would not disclose the foundation's progress.

The finished project could include a museum and event spaces of various sizes, including one big enough to host a presidential debate, according to the document. The style of design should "transcend time" and reflect the natural world of the Badlands, the document says.

The document also details the board's desire to create a "library of the future" that features mostly digital archives. The museum's exhibits will rely heavily on technology to tell "immersive" stories about Roosevelt rather than emphasizing "objects under glass," O'Keefe said.

The library can flip the conventional model of a museum on its head by offering visitors mainly new, rotational exhibits and only a few permanent displays, O'Keefe said. This modern approach would "breathe life" into Roosevelt's legacy rather than "passively memorializing" him as a figure of the past, the document says.

The document also outlines desired local partnerships with the National Park Service, Billings County, state agencies and the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, which owns land in the area and operates attractions, including the Medora Musical.

The document was prepared with the help of New Jersey-based architectural consultant D.R. Horne and Co. 



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